Christchurch and Canterbury after the quakes
C-One Espresso might look like an ordinary, if somewhat quirky, cafe but that doesn’t begin to describe it. When you see sliders being shot directly from the kitchen to tables through a network of clear tubes that hug the ceiling and walls you know the place is more than a little idiosyncratic.
Housed in the heritage-listed former post office in Christchurch’s CBD, it’s the brainchild of Sam Crofskey who opened it in November 2012 after his original C1 was destroyed in the February 2011 earthquake. It epitomises the huge shift from conservatism to innovation the city has experienced since that geographical shift destroyed 80% of its centre.
Sam has planted vegetables in the beds out front where for over a century there’d only ever been flowers. “Before the earthquake council would never have allowed a vegetable garden in front of a heritage listed building,” he says, “but now they’ve got bigger things to worry about.”
He has also planted a mini vineyard on the roof to join the productive bee hives which supply honeycomb for the cafe’s bagels. Black Estate in the nearby Waipara Valley will make the cafe’s first wine next year, an estimated 55 bottles of pinot noir, from the rooftop grapes.
But back to those sliders. The idea which Sam now recognises as a form of madness took months of trial and error, finding the best canisters to accommodate up to three sliders and a serve of curly fries, as well as getting the speed right.
“At first we shot them out at 140ks an hour but they were exploding in the tubes and the clean up was horrendous. Now the tickets go from the cafe to the kitchen at that speed but the food travels at 20ks an hour.”
When Sam opens eight hotel rooms upstairs which will range from backpackers to five star, reflecting his customers’ broad demographic, he’ll try to get the slider tube system to work for room service as well.
Along with architectural innovations such as the Cardboard Cathedral made largely of glazed cardboard cylinders and the ReStart mall comprising shipping containers for shops there’s been a proliferation of hip places to eat and drink. This city, once known as New Zealand’s most conservative, now has moodily lit bars such as King of Snake serving modern Asian food and a funky joint, Mexicanos, with great tacos, street food and a comprehensive margarita menu.
South east of the city centre at nearby Woolston lies The Tannery (thetannery.co.nz) (pictured) , a multi-venue development built and flourishing since the earthquake in an old sawtooth roofed industrial complex. Owned and run by father and son, Alasdair and Zac Cassells, it includes a chic shopping arcade modelled on Sydney’s Victorian Strand Arcade, a throbbing casual ‘brew pub’ featuring the family’s Cassels & Sons craft beers and a wine bar serving a mostly
Mediterranean menu with an appealing range of sharing plates. That said, the menu goes wildly global for brunch - think Indian idli with kasaundi, churros with hot chocolate, chorizo and kumara empanadas or perhaps Vietnamese beef pho.
Alasdair lost his own Arts and Crafts period home in the quake and has tried to recreate aspects of it in the Tannery rebuild. The wine bar is an authentic-looking mix of heavy oak furniture and panelling with William Morris wallpaper.
If there was an upside to the devastation that hit central Christchurch the Cassells found it; their business took off immediately because there was hardly anywhere else left to eat out and they had access to the best hospitality staff whose former places of employment had been destroyed.
Some of those establishments were hotels that had been serving high tea, a situation which presented an opportunity to caterer, Vanetia Grandiek. She had been running a wedding reception venue for some years and found high teas with tiny cakes and sandwiches were a popular option for a special occasion. She particularly loved all the fine china and tiered cake stands, sourcing it herself from auction houses and second hand shops, and had started thinking about making high tea a daily treat somewhere.
“Then, when the earthquakes happened, I really felt that we needed a very special place to go and get away from everything that we were dealing with. I wanted to open a place where not only was the food and service a treat but the environment felt very special and nurturing,” Vanetia says.
She renovated a sweet 1890s Victorian cottage in Lincoln, 20 minutes drive south west of Christchurch, and opened The Tea House Cafe and Restaurant (theteahouse.co.nz) in April 2012. Silver tea pots with leaf tea, dainty cakes and slices and softly toned decor do create a sense of occasion and the soft vintage background music is soothing. The high teas attract a 95% female clientele but lunches and dinners, where food is comforting and service is just as warm, appeal to both sexes equally.
In Oxford, northwest of Christchurch, Jo Seagar who’s New Zealand’s answer to Stephanie Alexander, has opened her dream business – cooking school, cafe, cookware shop and B&B. (www.joseagar.com) Jo, a nurse before she trained at London’s Cordon Bleu school, cooks everything from scratch in her country-style cafe and the brilliant breakfasts are big on bacon. Coffee, served with a tiny tile of creamy vanilla fudge, is good and there are always cakes, biscuits and muffins coming fresh from her gleaming black AGA. It seems, post earthquake, everyone needs to feel spoilt.
The Hit List
Obviously go for the pneumatically propelled sliders and, even if you’re not vegetarian, do choose the courgette and edamame fritter one in your choice of three. The excellent coffee is grown in Samoa on a plantation that cafe owner Sam Crofskey helped set up for a vulnerable community to run and own. Likewise the OK! nectars and juices are this cafe’s own line made with fruit bought from Samoan farming families, whether they have a single mango or a truckload to sell.
185 High Street, Christchurch www.c1espressso.co.nz
The Curator’s House
On the edge of the Botanic Gardens lies this 1920s Tudor revival house surrounded by a productive garden including an orchard, vegetables, berries and herbs. It serves great Spanish food, some dishes like Venison morcilla with a NZ twist, while the mostly local wine list has a Spanish twist. Fires roar at night and the garden tables beckon by day.
7 Rolleston Avenue, Botanic Gardens, Christchurch +64 3 379 2252 www.curatorshouse.co.nz
This ultra luxurious purpose built B&B lies in the leafy suburbs of Christchurch. There are just three rooms, all ensuite, and guests have the run of the house and garden. There are two loungerooms inside and an outdoor living area with an open fire and blankets for chilly evenings where guests are encouraged by the owner, Jen, to sip pinot noir, hot chocolate, whatever. Drinks and snacks are complimentary. Every detail has been attended to including the multi adapted phone/computer charger in each room, toothbrushes, shaving gear and a range of gorgeous toiletries.
50 Clyde Road, Ilam, Christchurch + 64 3 348 1444 www.theestablishment.net.nz
All the rooms in this grand Italianate building near the Cathedral are suites with cooking and laundry facilities so are great for families or an extended stay. Bang in the middle of the CBD it’s a short walk to all the major sites, shops and restaurants. Slightly longer trips around town can be taken on the cute retro tram which has a stop almost at the door.
28-30 Cathedral Square, Christchurch +64 3 983 4800 www.heritagehotels.co.nz
Jimmy McIntyre, the cook at this old world elegant Relais & Chateau property, is the bomb. This of course is brilliant if you’re lucky enough to be staying here but he also conducts cooking classes in small groups of up to 10. Lunch is then served with matched wines in the swoon worthy dining room.
224 Rhodes Road, Tai Tapu +64 3 329 6333 www.otahuna.co.nz
Take a helipcopter ride for an exciting, aerial perspective on some of New Zealand’s most dramatic landscapes. There’s a range of scenic trips available including the Waipara Valley wine country with lunch or exploring the remote reaches of the volcanic Banks Peninsula. It’s a blast.
This was originally published in SBS Feast Magazine